'Southland': Benjamin McKenzie and Shawn Hatosy's partnership 'still has legs'

ben-mckenzie-shawn-hatosy-soutland-tnt.jpgMost days, a brilliant sun shines on Los Angeles, the setting for TNT's LAPD drama "Southland," returning on Wednesday, Feb. 13. But the harsh, bright light also makes for deep shadows, and that's where much of the show lives.

Benjamin McKenzie stars as Officer Ben Sherman, who left Beverly Hills behind to serve the people of the City of Angels.

But, it hasn't quite worked out that way.

As Season 4 ended last spring, Sherman got deeply involved with a case involving a prostitute and her daughter and essentially got away with murder. His partner, Officer Sammy Bryant ( Shawn Hatosy), was injured in a car crash along the way and tried to reason with Ben from his hospital bed, to no avail.

On this chilly December day, cast and crew are assembled for a rare in-studio stint in the downtown Los Angeles office tower that houses the sets for the police precinct. Hatosy and McKenzie are done for the day, but they hang around for a bit in the lobby to talk about their partnership.

"Right out of the gate," Hatosy tells Zap2it, "we're at odds, pretty much. Right where we left off last season. There's a nice, healthy amount of tension."

"I don't think they ever considered splitting us up," says McKenzie. "It still has legs."

"And the tension is good," Hatosy says. "Plus, it's all dark and filled with conflict. It's been a question of this guy, Ben Sherman. He starts out as a rookie. He's working toward this perfect cop, and then he gets out there, and he sees what's going on. He's struggling with the kind of cop he's going to be.

"That's really going on this year, because you're still kind of on the fence."

"We're taking the end of last season," says McKenzie, "as the jumping-off point for a trip down the rabbit hole with Ben, with his nihilism and his bleak attitude. He's not a happy fellow. Even if it's contentious, there's still camaraderie between Sammy and Ben, because they're still peers at the end of the day.

"But the fact that Sammy knows what Ben did, and not only is Ben not suffering for it but receiving acclaim for it, is only amping Ben up to do more. Not only is it not punished, but it's rewarded. That reinforces Ben's bad habits. We're left trying to figure out who Ben is."

"Sammy's trying to help in any way he can," Hatosy says. "As the senior officer in the group, he's trying to push him on the right path."

As to whether there's anything that could turn Ben around, McKenzie says, "If it were to happen ... I don't know. I guess a person could come into his life who could potentially put him on the right path. Honestly, I don't know how to answer that question."

"All that's going to turn him around is rock bottom," Hatosy says.

"The thing is," says McKenzie, "he outwardly is not at rock bottom, but inwardly his soul is pretty close to rock bottom. He's not changing; he's only doubling down on it. So it's a pretty dark situation."

Of course, he could always find a good woman, or God, or both.

"That is certainly the way it was always taught to me in Texas," McKenzie says.

Meanwhile, upstairs in the precinct, Sherman's former training officer, John Cooper ( Michael Cudlitz), has received muffins from a female admirer -- eliciting an off-color remark from Officer Bill "Dewey" Dudek ( C. Thomas Howell).

michael-cudlitz-southland-325-tnt.jpgBut before you start wondering if the gay Cooper has undergone a change, Cudlitz -- who drops onto a couch, still dressed in his uniform with his bulletproof vest underneath -- says of the admirer, "You'll have to watch and see. It's a very sweet kind of thing.

"In a world where Cooper's having a hard time connecting with anyone, here's someone who he ... there's a connection, but he's still alone. John's going to deal with a lot this season, being a middle-aged gay man who's not in a stable relationship. We were talking last year about John's legacy on the force -- what's John's legacy in life?

"People definitely don't want to talk about 'I'm single; I'm middle-aged; I'm going to be alone for the rest of my life.' "

Meanwhile, Howell, who has been upgraded this year to series regular, is happy to keep doing his thing.

"I still basically supply all the politically incorrect dialogue," he says, perched on a desk, "and all the sexual harassment I can muster up, but that's really who my character is. I find it pleasantly challenging to find a way to do vile, unlikable things ... but there's a likability that I don't want to toss out completely.

"That's hard to do, when I'm mocking people and saying the things I say."
Photo/Video credit: TNT